China’s Inferiority Complex

Excellent short article in Newsweek by Orville Schell.  Key quote:

This proud prickliness has deep historical roots that involve China, the West and even Japan. As I argue in the current New York Review of Books, the most critical element in the formation of China’s modern identity has been the legacy of the country’s “humiliation” at the hands of foreigners, beginning with its defeat in the Opium Wars in the mid-19th century and the shameful treatment of Chinese immigrants in America. The process was exacerbated by Japan’s successful industrialization. Tokyo’s invasion and occupation of the mainland during World War II was in many ways psychologically more devastating than Western interventions because Japan was an Asian power that had succeeded in modernizing, where China had failed.

This inferiority complex has been institutionalized in the Chinese mind. In the early 20th century China took up its victimization as a theme and made it a fundamental element in its evolving collective identity. A new literature arose around the idea of bainian guochi—”100 years of national humiliation.” After the 1919 Treaty of Versailles cravenly gave Germany’s concessions in China to Japan, the expression wuwang guochi—”Never forget our national humiliation”—became a common slogan. To ignore China’s national failure came to be seen as unpatriotic. Since then, China’s historians and ideological overseers have never hesitated to mine the country’s past sufferings “to serve the political, ideological, rhetorical, and/or emotional needs of the present,” as the historian Paul Cohen has written.

Read the whole thing.  Due to this historically aggrieved sense and the Olympics as THE moment in the Chinese minds of restoring national greatness/showcase to the world, he thinks this is not the time for a protest which would only confirm their (quasi-paranoid?) suspicions and lead to a massive retrenchment of autocratic power.  I tend to think he is right.

On a related note, the PM of Canada Stephen Harper has been the only Western leader (I”m aware of) to stay home.  Maybe the Chinese President and/or Premier won’t come when we host the next ones (Vancouver, Winter Olympics 2010).

Published in: on July 28, 2008 at 8:29 am  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. middle kingdom: center of the world. U center of the world.

    1911: boy-emperor PUYI

    1949: red emperor chicken mao.

    No alphabet.

    No science

    No industry

    No election

    No free speech, free-vote. free association.

    No Nobel prize winners. Ever. 100 years.

    I would be ashamed and humiliated myself.

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